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How to Start a Clothing Line Series (2 of 6)

Developing a Business Plan for Your Clothing Line
Think of your business plan as a way of recording your goals and identifying exactly how you plan on achieving them. This will be your blueprint for success. After surveying the marketplace, you’ll summarize your research with a description of your main competitors—brands producing similar products at a similar price point. Do you have the same target customer? Identify how you’ll set your brand apart from them. You’ll tell your brand story, list your product line, detail pricing, outline your marketing and sales strategy, and record your financial information. You’re documenting all the important aspects of launching and running a fashion business, including merchandising and supply chain management. Exciting stuff!

Let’s talk a little more about your product line, also known as your line story or your line plan. State exactly what you’re making—sweater, tops, bottoms, etc. It will likely evolve through the seasons and years as you grow your business, but it’s important to determine what you intend to start with. Whatever your plan is, a good rule of thumb is to keep your product assortment narrow in the beginning. And know that it’s OK to start with just one thing, too. Maybe it’s a zip front hoodie in three colorways. Totally fine. Simple is good in the beginning. This will also make it easier on your sourcing. In this example, you’d only need one zipper, one type of fabric, one thread, one drawstring, one grommet! UCAN Zippers USA are made in Los Angeles and are an excellent resource if you want to source locally.

Be sure to outline a budget that identifies what kind of cash you’ll need for the first few years of operation. You don’t want any surprises when it comes to expenses! Prepared is the word we’re going for. Get as granular as you can on your finances because you’ll need this information if and when you apply for loans or pursue investors.

Write a mission statement that gets to the heart of your vision and values. What is it that your company does and why? Make it short and sweet and entirely reflective of your brand’s personality. This is critical because, in fact, your mission statement could steer your entire marketing initiative. You’ve heard of TOMS Shoes? They “match every pair of shoes purchased with a new pair of shoes for a child in need.” It’s how they came up with their tagline, “One for One.” So, think about it. Write is down. And run it by your best friends and colleagues. Get feedback from people in the industry.

Also critical to your business plan is your brand story.

Crafting a Brand for Your Clothing Line
Branding is storytelling meant to evoke emotion. Customers identify with brands like it’s part of them. What is your brand identity? Start with your brand pillars. What are the leading qualities about your brand you want to hit home with your customers? Is it quality, affordability, craftsmanship, design? To come up with your list, consider your mission, values, purpose, positioning, voice, tone, look, and feel.

To craft your brand identity, it’s helpful to create a mood board around the look and feel you’re going for. Do this with images, words, fabric swatches, lifestyle photos, pictures of cities, cars, the countryside, flowers, titles of songs, art, animals, characters in books, adjectives (i.e., smart, active, fun, professional, mature, energetic, sophisticated, alluring), or whatever works for you. This exercise will not only help you define what your brand is all about, it’ll lead you to determining your target customer. If your brand was a person, who would it be? What’s their life like.

Create a customer profile board including a picture of your ideal customer. Brainstorm everything you can think of. What do they eat for breakfast. Do they work out; if so, where. Do they have pets. Where do they work. Are they single. Do they have children. Write down their name, age, where they live, their occupation, lifestyle (where they go on vacation, where they eat out, and what makeup they use), buying habits, and their income. It all matters because this is the person you’re designing for. You know what they need, what they want, when they want it, and what they can afford. Bingo! This is gold!

Product Development Process for Your Clothing Line
Product development is essentially defined as everything that happens with your design, from concept to consumer. It starts with your idea which then gets recorded in a fashion sketch. Fabrics are sourced. Patterns and samples are made. And the garment gets produced and sold. OK, it’s not exactly that simple but basically that’s what happens. Your success depends on the execution of it all! Do what you need to do to hone in on your design idea, such as creating a trend board for inspiration. Get an idea of what the product will look like then refine it until you get to a point where you’re ready to sketch the silhouettes and get into the details (front and back). Design sheets are the final piece of design.

A common misconception in the fashion industry is that designers must know how to sketch. It’s helpful to be able to express your design ideas quickly, but don’t worry if you’re not an artist. There are plenty of successful designers who are not gifted in this way. You can hire someone to do your sketches based on your descriptions. And if you don’t have design software, you can hire someone to create your CADs (computer aided design) as well.

As a fashion designer, you will however need to know your fabrics! Do yourself a favor and invest in a good book of fabric swatches that includes fiber content and descriptions. An in-depth understanding of the structure, feel, and weight of different textiles is essential so you’ll know how they look, drape, and wash when they become part of your designs.

Your design sheets are essentially a roadmap to your collection. This is the point in the process where you’ll do your sourcing, record what you’re using, and attach samples—fabric swatches and fiber content, colors (also known as colorways), prints, notions, and trims. Fabric swatches should be at least 1.5” square. Be sure to use a swatch of the exact fabric you’ll be using in production, one that came directly from your fabric vendor. You’ll write down name, content, description, dimensions, price, and vendor references. For example, luxury G2 FL zipper pull from UCAN Zippers USA at $.80/each.

Remember, each time you make a new sourcing contact in the fashion industry, keep track of it. Build and maintain your contacts list. You will use it over and over again. Keep notes on what worked with them and what you need to make more clear next time. Build good working relationships with your vendors. Treat them with respect and maintain clear communication about deadlines and a payment structure. The fashion industry is big but the players often know one another. Always be professional. Reputation matters.

We’ll get into patterns and tech packs in our next post!

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